I’m no speed climber, but I enjoy moving quickly on multipitch routes. I can’t always climb faster, especially on challenging terrain, and climbing faster sometimes opens me up to more risk than I’m willing to take, with bigger runouts and hastily placed protection. However, I can almost always save time at the anchor.
Many of the multipitch routes I climb have bolted anchors, even on traditionally protected routes. This offers a huge advantage for moving quickly if done right. The methods below can be applied to traditional gear anchors, but you must be cautious! There is significantly more risk when doing this! I use these methods mostly for bolted anchors, and occasionally for absolutely bomber cam anchors when I’m on a ledge with little to no risk of falling off of the belay stance. Below I describe how to work more efficiently with bolted anchors.
Use this information at your own risk! You must judge when it is reasonable to use these tactics and when you must be more conservative. Never accept more risk than you are willing to take and always err on the side of caution.
For the Leader
- Don’t use a cordelette. They require more fiddling to equalize and tie and are usually much longer than needed for a 2 bolt anchor.
- If swinging leads, use the rope:
- Clove hitch into the bolt furthest from the line your partner will climb. Give yourself enough slack so that you can comfortably belay. Use a locking carabiner for this attachment point.
- Clove hitch into the second bolt with about 3 feet of slack between it and the first bolt. Any carabiner will do; I usually use an extra non-locker taken from a sling. Go off-belay.
- Tie an overhand or figure 8 on a bight to create an equalized master point between the two bolts.
- Belay off the master point using an appropriate device, such as the ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso. It makes rope management easier while belaying.
- Coil the rope across your tie in point as you belay, use really long coils that become progressively shorter as your second climbs.
- If leading in blocks (i.e. you are leading the next pitch), use a double-length sling:
- Clip the sling into two bolts using at least one locking carabiner. Create a master point.
- Clove into a locking carabiner and clip it to one of the bolts or to the other locking carabiner holding your sling. Tie a backup knot (overhand or figure 8 on a bight) and clip it to the other bolt or master point.
- Belay off the master point using an appropriate device.
- Coil the rope across your tie in point as you belay, use short coils the become progressively longer as you second climbs. When s/he gets to the belay, you can flip the pile of coils and the rope is ready for you to continue leading.
Tips for the Follower:
- When the leader goes off belay, immediately start organizing any loose equipment and clip it to you harness or put it a pack.
- As the leader pulls up rope, remove your master point. At this time, you should still be connected to two points.
- OPTIONAL: If you are at a good stance (i.e. NOT a hanging belay), you may want to go ahead and un-clove from the bolt you are not directly attached to. Only do this if you are certain that you will not fall and are okay with the slight increase in risk.
- When the leader has pulled in all the slack and put you on belay, un-clove from the bolt(s) you are clipped to and start climbing.
- If you won’t be leading the next pitch, clip the gear to a sling around your shoulder. That way you can hand over all the gear back to the leader at once. It makes for a faster transfer than handing pieces over one by one.
- When you reach the next belay anchor, clove into the master point as soon as you arrive. Back the clove up with an overhand on a bight clipped to one of the bolts. You can adjust the length of the clove hitch as needed while off belay.
In my opinion, saving time at the anchor is much more cost effective than climbing fast and is less risky than pushing yourself to move too quickly on lead. When on lead, go off belay as soon as possible, and when following, climb as soon as possible. Depending on the anchoring method you currently use and your proficiency with it, the methods described above save me 5-10 minutes on every pitch. More time to climb and more time for beer at the end of the day!
As always, don’t do anything you are not comfortable with. Every situation is different and every climber is different. You are ultimately responsible for your safety! You should discuss and agree on anchoring methods and how you will go on and off belay anytime you consider speed climbing. Good communication with your partner before and during the climb are essential parts of safe, efficient climbing.
Be safe, have fun!